Category Archives: Culture
The other day, I had a teachable moment. J and I were preparing for a dinner party that we were hosting. I was making stuffed butternut squash (more on that in another post) and J was helping me by grating the carrots. When he got close to the end of the carrot, he accidentally slipped and sort of grated his finger. His finger bled and he was in pain. When he came back from cleaning it up, I told him not to worry about the rest, and that besides, it was just the stump of the carrot that was left anyway. J insisted on continuing and finishing what he started. He said something like “if you don’t finish what you’ve started when it’s not important, you won’t finish what you’ve started when it is important”.
He was totally right, and it’s so true. If it were me, I would have totally felt sorry for myself for my bleeding finger and I would have been content to eat the stump of the carrot and move on with my life. And maybe that would have been ok. But nonetheless, J got me thinking about my habits and my patterns, and about how the small and unimportant events are really what help shape our character for the more important events. I know that he is right, because I have seen J in some pretty difficult situations, and he invariably stays strong and does the right thing even if it is much harder to do. Though I think his strong character comes from much more than being able to grate a carrot after hurting himself, I do think there is so much value in that lesson.
I leave you with this quote on habits and character that comes from an American text on the use of character evidence in court cases:
“Character may be thought of as the sum of one’s habits though doubtless it is more than this. But unquestionably the uniformity of one’s response to habit is far greater than the consistency with which one’s conduct conforms to character or disposition. Even though character comes in only exceptionally as evidence of an act, surely any sensible man in investigating whether X did a particular act would be greatly helped in his inquiry by evidence as to whether he was in the habit of doing it.” (McCormick, 1954).
I recently checked out the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Have you seen it? It is about a little boy who loses his dad on 9/11 and his journey through the grief that follows. Near the beginning of the movie, he made what I thought to be an excellent analogy. He said that if the sun were to explode, it would take us 8 minutes to notice because that is how long it would take for the light and heat to go away (based on the speed at which light travels). The boy in the movie says that after his dad passed away, he still felt as though he was in that 8 minute period in which he still felt his dad’s light and heat so to speak. He finds a key that belonged to his dad and spends most of the movie searching for the lock for the key. He says that he feels that finding this lock would help him to extend his eight minutes with his dad.
This analogy really helps put into words a lot of what I have been feeling since my mom’s passing. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I still feel her presence in our home through all the little touches that she left behind. Now that I think about it, I realise that this is me in my 8 minutes. Like the little boy in the movie, I fear what comes after 8 minutes and I find myself trying to elongate it as much as I can. There are a few things in my mother’s belongings that I have wanted to go through and look at, but have decided instead to “save” them for later, because I feel as though that will draw out my 8 minutes with her a little longer.
Without spoiling the movie for you, the boy does end off by saying that he never thought that he would be able to live without his father, and that making it to the end of the 8 minutes taught him that he could and would survive. Though I don’t think I have quite reached the end of my 8 minutes, this experience has indeed been life changing for me. There are people who say that life can be described as “life before losing a parent” and “life after losing a parent”. I think that is such an accurate description. Life will never be the same, but life will continue. This I now know.
Valuable Lessons Learned
Before my mom passed away, I had the honour of spending a diffucult yet wonderful and memorable ten days with her. I am still processing everything I thought, saw, and experienced during that time. One of those events is a visit paid to my family by a very lovely and kind palliative care doctor. Up to this point, I have been fortunate enough not to have had very much interaction with the health care system. However, during the time I spent at home with my mom, I got a small glimpse into her relationship with the health care system, both good and bad. I think that this particular visit was probably one of the best experiences she has had with the system. This doctor provided her not only with medical care and attention, but with the emotional support that one needs as they prepare to end their life on this earth. The doctor gave my mom some advice that I know I will remember for a long time to come. Here’s what he said:
1. You are not a burden until they say you are.
For whatever reason, my mom felt like she was a burden on us while she was sick. No matter how much we told her that we wanted to take care of her, she just kept repeating it. She even mentioned it to the doctor when he came to see her. I loved what he said in response. It was so powerful for an external party to tell her that she was not the one who could decide whether she was a burden on us: we were.
2. You cannot deny them the righ to take care of you.
To follow up with the above piece of advice, the doctor also asked my mom if we were a burden on her while we were growing up, or when we got would get sick. She answered “Never! It was a joy to take care of them!”. He then very wisely said “well then, in the same way that you had that right to take care of them, you cannot take away their right to take care of you”. I had never thought of caring for someone as a right, but I really liked the way he put it. It was a privilege to take care of her. One that I will always remember. I’m glad that was not taken away from me.
3. Even though the definition of your quality of life will change, you can still have quality of life.
This one was particularly special. It’s true. When one is sick, everything changes. Answers to questions like “how are you?” or “how is your mom doing” start to become very relative. The answer “good” has a very different meaning than it does coming from someone else. In the same way, how one defines good quality of life must also change. The doctor said that even if one could only lie down with their eyes closed on a bed, they could still have quality of life simply by having a close relative by their side.
4. You are not the only one suffering. This cancer belongs to this entire family, and everyone is suffering; albeit very differenly than you are.
This was another good one. People do not realize that in the same way couple’s say “we’re pregnant”, families can be thought of saying “we have cancer”. Though the family physically does not have the illness just as the husband does not physically experience pregnancy, the other members of the family are still very much affected, and the doctor was right to point out that we were all suffering. During my mom’s illness, I sometimes felt guilty for being sad and making it about myself, when it was clearly about my mom. It was comforting and reassuring for someone to say that it was actually about all of us.
It was amazing how often these insights stayed with me during the days that followed. They motived me to care for my mom as best as I could, as well as to make her quality of life the best that it could have been. I’m grateful to this doctor who came into our lives at such a critical juncture.
Her Children Rise up and Call her Blessed
One day, during the week before my mom passed away, we were all sitting at the table having dinner. At the end of the meal, a whole bunch of us got up to put dinner away. My mom was too weak and tired to help but she expressed that we were all doing so much and that she felt badly that she could not get up and join us. My brother responded with what I thought was the perfect answer. He said: “Mom, this just goes to show how many of us it takes to do what you have been doing alone your whole life”. So true. In the days leading up to my mom’s departure to heaven, it took so many of us to try to keep the house running semi-normally. As the days continued to pass, I could not help but think of my brother’s comment. It was so true and so fitting for the situation. Now that mom has passed away, I find myself thinking about this even more. I think about how despite her physical absence, we still benefit so much from all the work she has done for our home. It goes beyond saying that we have benefitted enormously from her raising us, but the little things have begun to stick out to me more in the last couple of days. I look at how she has lovingly decorated the house with pretty paintings and framed family pictures, how she has organized the medicine cabinet and how her kitchen is fully stocked with all the kitchen tools a family could ever need. It never occurred to me that even after her passing, we would continue to benefit from the household that she had put together and kept up for us.
Noticing these little details reminded me of a Proverb from the Bible that my mom loved to read. It’s the passage she read to me at my bridal shower. It is also the passage that my grandfather would often read to my grandmother every so often. The entire chapter is about the “virtuous woman”. It was so sweet when my grandfather would read it and then lovingly gaze at my grandmother and say to her “that’s you”. What a blessing it was to witness such love (you’ll understand what I mean after you read the passage below). Whenever I would come across this chapter I would always think about my grandparents, but this week as I looked around our family home I could not help but think of how fitting this chapter is for the legacy that mom has left behind:
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)
Making Peace with the Past
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Atlantic National Event in Halifax. Survivors of the Canadian government’s residential school program, which ran roughly from the 1870’s to the 1990’s, came forward to give their accounts.
To give you a bit of a background, the Residential School program was created with the intention of assimilating First Nations people into European-Canadian society. The residential school system separated children from their parents, taking them away to boarding schools in an effort to distance them from their cultures. The children were forced to speak only English and were beaten (or worse) if they did not comply or made attempts to escape. This effort to force assimilation has been described as “cultural genocide”. The stated goals of the residential schools were to “civilize” the Aboriginal people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was entrusted with the mandate of bringing the truth about what happened in these schools to light, as well as passing on these truths to all Canadians. According to the TRC’s website, there are an estimated 80,000 former residential school students living today. In addition to this, the TRC notes that the impact of these schools is ongoing and has been a contributing factor with regards to many of the current social issues experienced by First Nations in Canada.
In my experience, Canadian media seems to focus much more on the social problems in First Nations communities than on the historical factors that have either caused or contributed to these problems. Now that I have learned a bit more of the story, I feel as though the narrative I’ve been fed about these communities is incomplete and entirely one-sided.
Last week I was able to experience the inter-generational impact of the residential school program. I sat down and listened to survivors and their children talk about how they have been affected. I heard stories about people who were beaten and molested merely for daring to speak their own language. I also heard accounts from the children of survivors who are unable to speak the language of their community and who have also been affected by the psychological impact that this type of treatment had on their parents. Not surprisingly, these effects are being passed on even to the third generation.
While it brings me hope that Canada is doing what it can to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and attempting to bring about reconciliation, what strikes me most deeply is how long, arduous, and painful this process will be. At best, it may take another three generations before the effects subside. Also, as the TRC has acknowledged, we will have to find a place to fit Justice in between Truth and Reconciliation, perhaps even as a bridge between the two.
A while back, I wrote about about becoming a contributor to society and about inheriting the mistakes of previous generations. Coming to terms with and addressing the effects of the residential school program is a classic example. As a new generation of Canadians, we must do our best to guard against the reoccurence of such tragedies. You can go here to read more about the residential school program and the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Picture of the week – Atlantic Film Festing
This week’s photo was shot at Colour Me‘s premiere at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax. I did a post with my own personal review of this film a few months ago, and just as a side note for you Montreal readers, the film will be screening in Montreal TONIGHT! Anyhow, my friend and the producer of the film, Sherien Barsoum was in town for the screening and I got to accompany her and her publicist Meghan as well as the film’s subject, Anthony McLean to a few screenings and even a little industry party! I’ve got lots of thoughts to share about the films that we checked out and also have few restaurant reviews to post. Stay tuned for those this week!
The B&B book club: The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ & ‘Teta Mother & Me’
A little while ago I mentioned that I was reading the book “Teta, Mother and Me”. It is a wonderful memoir in which the author explores her life growing up in the Middle East while also looking back at the lives of past generations of women in her family. As I was reading the other day, I found one of the stories that she recounted to be particularly powerful. I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.
This week the world looked back 10 years ago to a day which many people believe proves the theory that the major source of conflict in our post-Cold War world is the “clash of civilizations.” This story is highlights how easily and tragically cultures and civilizations can and do indeed clash. As I read this story I could not help but be amazed at the ways in which we as people can be so the same and yet so different. I find it fascinating how different cultures place value on such different things. As a result of these differing views such huge yet simple misunderstandings arise.
Here is the excerpt:
In Marjeyoun, Youssef Badr [the author’s grandfather, who was a pastor] had a helper, a sort of deacon who had a large family. As time passed, this man found it increasingly difficult to live on the meagre salary paid him by the mission, and one day in desperation requested the pastor to intervene urgently with headquarters on his behalf. Seeing the fairness of the man’s request, Rev. Youssef agreed to do what he could. He wrote a letter to the mission [which was composed of Americans] headquarters in Beirut, explaining his helper’s problem. He received a positive response from the mission: on their next trip to Marjeyoun, they would visit the deacon and discuss his financial needs.
Elated, and overcome with anticipation, the deacon insisted that the visitors should lunch at his house on the forthcoming trip. Admonishing his wife to honour the visitors properly, together they made preparations for the traditional hospitality. To make their poor house fit to receive the great men from Beirut, she sold the gold bracelets and earrings that had been her dowry, and with the money bought the necessary furnishings and food. When the time came, they slaughtered the goat from whose milk they made their cheese and yoghurt, and with the meat made kibbeh and other delicacies. When the great day arrived, they slaughtered the chickens whose eggs had been a mainstay of their diet. The meal was a triumph of Arab generosity and hospitality; they had sacrificed their living to honour their guests.
The Americans, having eaten and drunk plentifully, and having given the matter some consideration, wrote from Beirut that the man seemed comfortable enough and in no need of financial improvement. ‘We should have fed them olives, onions and lentils instead of honouring them as we did,’ cried the man, beating his forehead with his fist when he heard the news. ‘We should have fed them what we ourselves eat instead of treating them as honoured guests.’
The author then adds “I have always remembered this little story as it shows the difference between two world visions, and the boundary between the imperatives of that world in which hospitality defined human relations, and the more practical, but crueller, imperatives of modern economic relationships”. So true.
Last burger of the summer?
Happy Tuesday everyone!
Our summer vacation has officially ended and today J started law school and I started my new job. For the next few months I’ll be working from home which I think will be a nice treat. We’ve set up a little home office for me and I am really looking forward to spending my days at home and being able to take advantage of the flexibility that comes along with that. I know that I’ll miss the people interaction but hopefully the convenience of the arrangement will outweigh that.
Remember when I told you about those pomegranate molasses I bought at the Middle East grocer and how I promised greatness? Well, I’ve concocted this recipe for pomegranate-feta burgers that I think you might like. Hopefully you will have some time to squeeze in a few more bbq dinners before the fall officially hits.
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (ideally Macedonian feta)
- 6 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 egg
- 1 envelope dry onion soup mix
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat a grill for high heat.
- In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, onion, cheese, soy sauce, pomegranate molasses, egg, onion soup mix, garlic, garlic powder, parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
- Form into patties.
- Grill patties for 5 minutes per side on the hot grill, or until well done.
Our vacation to the Cabot Trail was rather impromptu. In fact, we only decided to go the night before when we saw that we would be getting a few days of sunshine (this has been pretty rare this month). We left with our tent and some blankets, still not sure whether we would camp or check out some bed and breakfasts along the trail.
On the ride up, we stopped for some lunch in New Glasgow. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend stopping at Baked. It is a cute little place with some scrumptious food.
Our first night there, we set up camp in an area along the trail called Ingonish and went looking for a place to have dinner. We ended up at a pub called the “Thirsty Hiker”. We weren’t really expecting much when we walked in but we were simply grateful to have found a place that was open past 9. To my surprise though, that night turned out to be one which neither of us will never forget. We met and were invited to join a Cape Bretonian family that was gathered for a wedding happening two days later. We sat with the parents of the bride, uncles and cousins. They taught us all about the island of Cape Breton, its history, its people’s and its culture. J and I loved every second of it. In between stories they sang along with the performer (who was singing some Celtic folk songs). We were in awe of how they knew every song seeing as we had never heard any of them. The whole atmosphere felt magical, maybe because it was so unexpected. We felt like we were in a different world and yet we hadn’t even left the country. What fascinated us the most was how this little island (which is a part of Nova Scotia) has managed to blend and preserve its Scottish, Irish and Acadian roots so nicely. One side of the island is more Scottish and Irish (creating a general blend of Celtic culture) and the other side is completely Acadian (the descendents of the initial French settlers). That night we were on the Celtic side (hence the music), and the next day we would be continuing along our journey towards the Acadian side.
Our friends told us all about the history of the Acadian people and how they were expelled from the island in the 1750s because of their culture. Anyone choosing to stay had to assimilate rather quickly. In fact, our friend told us that one of his ancestors was named “Jeune” (French for “Young”) and that in an effort to assimilate, she changed her name to “Young” and completely stopped speaking French. It was terribly sad to hear about how these people had been treated, and even sadder that this is barely talked about today. J and I had heard parts of this story here and there but had never really put everything together. Interesting fact – when the Acadians were literally shipped off of the island , many of them wound up in Louisiana. We learned that the word “Cajun” actually comes from the word “Acadian”. Fascinating stuff! Only much later did some of them start to return to the Maritimes.
We left the next day with a much greater appreciation of the people and history of Cape Breton and felt more ready to see the Acadian side of the island. As we drove through many little fisherman villages, we admired the beauty of the land, but both agreed that it was the interaction of the people with their land that really spoke to us. As a side note, the soundtrack to our trip was the Peter, Bjorn and John album “Gimme some”. I recommend giving it a listen.
It was amazing to arrive to the other side and hear the Acadian French mixed in with English where the day before we had just heard Gaelic.
On our last day there we took a break from driving to relax. We went on a whale watching tour, saw some whales – and even spotted a moose! We also went to check out a beach near our camp site and spent a few hours relaxing and reading on the beach (I am reading Teta, Mother and Me and am really enjoying it). We felt like we had our own private beach because we were literally all alone there with our books (for anyone planning a trip there, this beach was called “Petit Étang”). Once we had enough sun, we decided to go for a swim. We had the option between the Ocean and a lake but chose the latter because it was warmer. Our experience in the lake added to the serendipity of our day because since it was fairly shallow and not too big we actually decided to walk all the way to the other end. WE WALKED ACROSS THE LAKE! At the other end was lush, untouched natural beauty. We were in a valley surrounded by trees and mountains and just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, an eagle perched itself on one of the trees nearby. We stood there watching the eagle and admiring the scenery for quite some time. Neither of us had ever seen a bald eagle before. We went home that night and grilled some turkey sausages and roasted some marshmallows and counted our blessings. What a special little vacation this was.